Nepal’s ex-queen mum to stay in palace, crown goes missing

June 9th, 2008 - 12:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 9 (IANS) While Nepal’s dethroned king Gyanendra has just 72 hours to vacate the royal palace, former queen mother Ratna Shah will stay on. She has wrested permission from the government despite growing public anger against the privileges of the erstwhile royal family. Gyanendra’s 80-year-old stepmother, once the most powerful woman in the kingdom and a resident of the Narayanhity royal palace through the reign of four kings in succession, will not have to quit her quarters inside the sprawling palace, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government said.

Ratna Shah, the iron-fisted second wife who late king Mahendra married despite the disapproval of his father, and who is reported to have been a staunch supporter of Gyanendra’s coup in 2005, will continue to stay in Mahendra Manzil, the mansion inside the palace built by her husband.

Not just the former queen mother, but a former royal mistress will also be allowed to stay in the palace, the council of ministers decided Sunday.

Sarala Tamang, in her 90s, who was the concubine of Gyanendra’s grandfather Tribhuvan, will also be allowed to continue living in the separate house inside the palace.

Meanwhile, the fabled crown of the Shah kings, studded with priceless gems and easily identifiable by the long bird of paradise feather rising from the apex, is missing, as well as the royal sceptre.

The crown was last worn in public by Gyanendra, the last king of Nepal, on June 4, 2001 when he ascended the throne a second time following the assassination of his brother Birendra.

Though a high-level committee formed by the government to make an inventory of the priceless heirlooms in the secretive palace has been repeatedly asking about the two erstwhile symbols of power, but no one had complied till Sunday.

Last month, Nepal’s newly elected constituent assembly, that replaced its interim parliament, formally declared Nepal a federal, secular democratic republic, ending the Shah dynasty of kings’ stranglehold over the country for more than two centuries.

The assembly ordered the deposed king to leave the palace by June 12 so that it can be turned into a national museum.

While the proclamation was hailed by the people, days later, the Koirala government was accused of betraying the pro-democracy movement that ended Gyanendra’s authoritarian regime, when it conceded the sacked king’s request to find him suitable accommodation and let him move to a summer palace on the outskirts of Kathmandu valley.

The cabinet decision to let the former king and his wife KOmal move from the Narayanhity into the Nagarjuna summer residence nestled in forested hills triggered severe criticism with people asking why Gyanendra, a billionaire, could not find alternate accommodation on his own.

Now the plan to allow the former queen mother and the royal mistress to linger on in the palace is also likely to stoke public resentment.

Ironically, the decision was supported by the Maoist ministers, whose party fought a 10-year war to overthrow the royal dynasty.

The first note of dissent came from a fringe communist party, People’s Front Nepal.

Its representative in the cabinet, Health and Population Minister Girijaj Mani Pokhrel, was the lone dissenting voice, saying that the decision would send a very negative message about the government’s commitment to the cause of a democratic republic.

Earlier, Pokhrel had also opposed the move to allow Gyanendra to move into Nagarjuna.

Though Gyanendra said he accepted the decision of the critical election in April that decided his fate, the palace has continued to go its own way, refusing to take instructions from the government.

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